The body is highly articulated in the classic dances of India. Head wags on neck, fingers are splayed, wrists crooked, the hips seesaw, knees are bent gently or in a deep plie', and the parts of the foot are almost as agile as those of the hand. Used in contrast to this skeletal staccato is a sinuous muscularity of movement. The sum of their interaction is a strength both voluptuous and pure.
Samjukta Panigrahi, who danced yesterday at the Tawes Theater in College Park, is a virtuoso in transforming staccato into legato through acceleration and change of rhythm. She can shift gears quickly, or show a modulation in fascinating detail. Remarkable, too, is the extreme to which she takes balances. There are coiled-torso and head-down attitudes that hint at, and by implication reject, the extended spaciousness of Western balletic arabesques.
Panigrahi's repertoire and technique are the particular products of the Odissi school of southern India. This dance tradition is noted for its lyricism and, last evening, music was almost an equal partner in the performance. Raghunath Panigrahi, the dancer's husband, led the instrumentalists and proved to be a cantor of substance and subtlety.
Undoubtedly, Odissi's qualities of lyricism and musicality were the impulses for what one suspects are Samjukta Panigrahi's special contributions to dance dynamics and balance. Yesterday, with both dance and mime on the program, it almost seemed as if she were merely an appealing mime. However, in the final piece, a devotional in which the performer is supposed to savor each motion to the utmost, Samjukta Panigrahi infused her being into steps and gestures so completely that she seemed to grow in stature and radiate a compelling force. Suddenly she was the deity to whom the dance was an offering.